Nataliya's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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Apr 12, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: hugo-nebula, 2012-reads, strange-avenues-of-mieville-s-mind, locus-winner, location-is-the-true-protagonist
Read from May 20 to 22, 2012 , read count: 2

Wow. Okay, I'm definitely fangirling for China Miéville. I love his limitless imagination, the skill to effortlessly make an unbelievable premise feel real, and ability to turn any setting and place into a true protagonist.



SOME SPOILERS MAY HAVE CREEPED IN SOMEHOW, SO BE WARNED

This is my first non-Bas Lag novel, set in the (more or less) real world. But no reason to worry - this remains as much of "weird fiction" as anything else by His Chinaness. As Miéville tries to write a novel in every genre of fiction, this time he tackles a hardboiled noir crime mystery. A murder of a young woman, investigated by a slightly cynical but good and incorruptible detective Tyador Borlú of Beszel Extreme Crime Squad, quickly evolves into a much larger mystery plot. It is a detective story, a hard-boiled crime with all the specifics and peculiarities of this genre. We have a murder mystery, high reliance on dialogue, fast-paced plot, many logical leaps and jumps that may confuse the reader about certain plot points but that still shed light on the story as a whole.
"We are all philosophers here where I am, and we debate among many other things the question of where it is that we live."
But the mystery plot, albeit engaging and interesting, feels just as an excuse to introduce the reader to the fascinating world of quasi-Eastern European twin cities of Beszél and Ul Qoma. The cities are the true protagonists, not Detective Berlú whose character is little more than an outline, the window into this world. Once a single city, Beszél and Ul Qoma were split apart by a mysterious Cleavage centuries ago.
"From that historically brief quite opaque moment, came the chaos of our material history, an anarchy of chronology, of mismatched remnants that delighted and horrified investigators."



These are two separate nations with distinct languages, customs, clothes, economics. They do not like each other much. And yet they are not separated by any physical barrier - the division between them is done by their citizens who have been conditioned since the early age to 'unsee' and 'unhear' the citizens of the other country, even if they share the same streets and buildings in the 'crosshatched' areas belonging both to Beszél and Ul Qoma.

The cities share their past and present and their geography, but rigidly maintain the invisible lines of separation. Simply seeing and acknowledging someone from the other city - who can be within inches of you on the same street, on the same sidewalk, but yet in another country - is the ultimate crime, the breach.

And it is this semi-willing separation between Beszél and Ul Qoma that brings out the overarching themes of this book. The City & The City addresses the question of national identity and how it is determined. There is much more than simple geography that goes into creating a people, a nation. There are subtler things like bits and pieces of learned behaviors, strange and puzzling to the foreigners beliefs and habits, time-tested social conventions, seemingly ridiculous taboos based on strange old traditions. It's the amalgam of the little seemingly senseless and hard to understand things that defines a nation. As I'm visiting my Eastern European motherland right now, I'm struck by the realization of the same - how much the national identity is the direct result of little idiosyncrasies. And the question arises - what will become of the nation itself if its beliefs and peculiarities are questioned? Is there a comeback from that?
"It's not just us keeping them apart. It's everyone in Beszél and everyone in Ul Qoma. Every minute, every day. We're only the last ditch: it's everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don't blink. That's why unseeing and unsensing are so vital. No one can admit it doesn't work. So if you don't admit it, it does. But if you breach, even if it's not your fault, for more than the shortest time ... you can't come back from that."
As usual, Miéville presents us with superb and sophisticated world-building. The both cities are vivid and memorable, the atmosphere in both is depicted with skill and depth, and the nuances of this world are revealed subtly and unobtrusively without overt clunky exposition. As I came to expect from him, China Miéville takes a concept that is rather difficult to swallow - the duality of this world, relying on little else but the tradition to keep it going - and develops it so well that by the end of the book it felt real to me.

The language of The City & The City, when compared to the Bas Lag books, is quite simple, even minimalistic. It is not luxurious or flowing; on the contrary, it is crisp, clear, and devoid of any extraneous words, any extraneous descriptions, any possible fluff. It was the first book by Miéville that I found a quick and easy read. And yet, despite the surface easiness, it is still incredibly sophisticated and very visual.

This book fully deserves 4.5 stars. I highly recommend it both to Miéville fans and those who for whatever strange reason have not read his books yet.
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Reading Progress

05/21/2012 page 107
33.0% "Dear Mr. Mieville. Your awesome book is the only thing that makes the 8-hour layover in a loud stuffy airport almost bearable. Thank you. Btw, is my fangirling getting out of control?" 6 comments
01/12/2013 page 1
0.0% "Revisiting the quasi-central-European world of the strange twin cities for the Miévillians group read." 5 comments
01/18/2013 page 47
14.0% "I love it so much more on the reread! The world of dual cities is fascinating, and the quasi-Central European feel is really well done.
Looking forward to all the awesome discussions on the Miévillians group read :)" 5 comments
show 2 hidden updates…

Comments (showing 1-50 of 54) (54 new)


message 1: by Mosca (last edited May 23, 2012 06:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mosca Have you tried Methadone?

......or maybe Elvis? ;)


Catie No rating?


Nataliya Haha, my Eastern European internet died yesterday before the rating could go in. I shall rectify this presently.


Pixelina You really need to read Kraken now.


Nataliya Oh, I definitely will. I plan to make my way through all CM books in the next few months.


message 6: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim It was a quick and easy read? I'm scared to try any of his other books now :P


message 7: by Jurgen_i (new)

Jurgen_i Nataliya, you are evil to CM, continuously giving him 4 points...
Good review!


Catie Hey, she gave The Scar five stars! :)


message 9: by Jurgen_i (new)

Jurgen_i I was done just by an oversight, LOL!


Nataliya Jurgen_i wrote: "Nataliya, you are evil to CM, continuously giving him 4 points...
Good review!"


Like Catie said - The Scar fully earned the full stars, it was one of my favorite books this year :)
Honestly, I love Miéville, and love him consistently (apparently), and obviously can't stop fangirling about him. But I think I've set "The Scar" as the standard for him by now, and so far nothing has been able to top that.

I can be picky about the 5-star ratings though. But hey, I still have quite a few Miévilles to get through - maybe I'll eventually hit the five-star streak for his books. So far I love "Un Lun Dun" to pieces.


Nataliya Kim wrote: "It was a quick and easy read? I'm scared to try any of his other books now :P"

It is actually a very quick read, and very easy as far as Miéville goes. The language is way more accessible, and the pace is quite a bit faster.


Wendy Darling I really need to stop reading your reviews, because I basically want to read every book you get excited over, hah. I've been meaning to try out this author for some time.


Nataliya Haha, that's been happening to me ever since I joined Goodreads. My to-read shelf has reached an unmanageable size by now.
I do hope that you'll like Miéville. The Scar is also a great book of his to start with.


Catie The Scar was so amazing. Nothing I've read of his (as incredible as they all are) has topped it.


Fatma Great review, put into words exactly how I felt about this book but could never express, and gave me further things to think about. Can't wait read more by 'His Chinaness'!


Nataliya Fatma wrote: "Great review, put into words exactly how I felt about this book but could never express, and gave me further things to think about. Can't wait read more by 'His Chinaness'!"

Thanks, Fatma.


Nataliya Catie wrote: "The Scar was so amazing. Nothing I've read of his (as incredible as they all are) has topped it."

I agree. "The Scar" has set the bar impossibly high. Which is almost unfair to the rest of Miéville's books since they are all almost nearly perfect.


message 18: by j (new) - rated it 3 stars

j this is a good review, but i might mark it for spoilers. you basically give away the way that the two cities "work," which the book makes an effort to obfuscate for quite some time.


Nataliya Hmmm, I did not think of that in this way. I thought it was pretty clear from the start, chapter 2 or 3 or so. Once we heard about the 'unsee' or 'unhear' part, and the 'crosshatching'.

But I'll be happy to include a spoiler warning. Thanks for pointing it out, Joel - I would hate to ruin this book for any potential readers!


message 20: by j (new) - rated it 3 stars

j maybe i am slow then, but it took me quite some time to realize that there was literally no difference between the two aside from in the mind. but i didn't read anything about it in advance either, so i felt totally lost at sea.


Nataliya Joel wrote: "maybe i am slow then, but it took me quite some time to realize that there was literally no difference between the two aside from in the mind. but i didn't read anything about it in advance either,..."

Maybe I just had a lucky hunch then. Or maybe at this point I was expecting something completely strange from Miéville, and so I went straight for the least probable theory. But lucky hunch is probably more likely.


message 22: by Jim (new)

Jim Another awesome review, Nataliya! You are going to read through the whole canon before I get to the first full-length novel!

I think I can manage the stories you reviewed in the short term, and those look brilliant too.:)


Traveller I skimmed over some parts your review and the thread above, wary of spoilers, because I also still need to read this one. ..but from what I did read of your review; -wow, I can't wait... (Have to first finish Perdido Street Station tho)

Nice review, as usual!


Nataliya Thank you, Jim and Traveller!

Jim, his stories are great, and I think you'll really like them. Plus, I might as well get through these now since I have no idea how much time for Goodreads/reading I will have once I start residency.

Traveller - I'm glad my review got you excited about this book. How are you liking PSS so far?


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim Nataliya wrote: "Jim, his stories are great, and I think you'll really like them. Plus, I might as well get through these now since I have no idea how much time for Goodreads/reading I will have once I start residency. "

Yes, I started London's Overthrow after seeing your review, and it looked awesome. It's just a time/energy/life issue right now, but that one looks manageable and fascinating.

I know you are going to be 'fully occupied' very soon now - I just hope you still have some time to spend with all your friends here!


Tracy Such an awesome review. I loved this book.


Nataliya Jim, I really hope to find time for Goodreads and all of my friends here. How can I live without Goodreads? It's a nerdy bibliophile dream come true! Btw, I'm curious to see what you eventually think about Mr. Miéville's political essay.

Tracy - thanks! I'm yet to find a book by Miéville that leaves me disappointed.


Traveller Nataliya wrote: "Thank you, Jim and Traveller!

Traveller - I'm glad my review got you excited about this book. How are you liking PSS so far?
."


I've been enjoying it - the writing is sophisticated, and he really manages to stretch one's mind regarding a lot of concepts.

Sadly I've had to put it aside since I have more urgent non-fiction things going on at the moment, but I'll pick it up again in about a weeks' time. I guess I'll have a review of it out in about 2 week's time. :)


Nataliya I'll be looking forward to it :)


Traveller You're such a nice person to have on a friend's list Nataliya! ^_^


Nataliya Traveller wrote: "You're such a nice person to have on a friend's list Nataliya! ^_^"

Awwww, thanks!


message 32: by Shovelmonkey1 (last edited Jun 05, 2012 10:44AM) (new)

Shovelmonkey1 So far I've only read the short story you recommended by CM. Honestly every time I mention CM to anyone (specifically women) I get covered in literary based ejaculate. I am worried about getting blinded by word-cum generated by all the people out there who love him so much! Or maybe I'll stop talking about him and buy a copy of one of his books and some safety goggles!


message 33: by j (new) - rated it 3 stars

j Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "So far I've only read the short story you recommended by CM. Honestly every time I mention CM to anyone (specifically women) I get covered in literary based ejaculate. I am worried about getting blinded by word-cum..."

uh. gross.


message 34: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Sorry! Perhaps better described as an enthusiastically bubbling effervescent approval of the verbal kind.


Nataliya Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "So far I've only read the short story you recommended by CM. Honestly every time I mention CM to anyone (specifically women) I get covered in literary based ejaculate. I am worried about getting bl..."

O_O O_O O_O

Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Sorry! Perhaps better described as an enthusiastically bubbling effervescent approval of the verbal kind."

Okay, that sounds like Miéville's prose now! :D


Brandon I really need to revisit this. I feel like I'm crazy for not really liking it the first time around.

Great review!


Nataliya Brandon wrote: "I really need to revisit this. I feel like I'm crazy for not really liking it the first time around.

Great review!"


Thanks, Brandon! Was it, maybe, the noir-like writing style that turned you off this book? I know that style is not to everyone's taste.


Brandon Nataliya wrote: "Thanks, Brandon! Was it, maybe, the noir-like writing style that turned you off this book? I know that style is not to everyone's taste."

I don't think so. I'm a pretty big noir fan.. I think the concept may have lost me at one point and I struggled with it.

I'm reading a Mieville book right now and I'm loving it so I'll have to give it another shot.


Nataliya I see you're reading "Perdido Street Station". Everyone seems to love it! It definitely gave me such a good sample of Miéville's love for the weird that none of the strange concepts in his other books baffle me at all.


message 40: by Mosca (last edited Jun 07, 2012 09:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mosca Yes, Nataliya, I agree. I feel that "Perdido Street Station", in fact, makes a very good first Miéville book to read. Right off the reader learns how he is.

I liked your review, Natalia. They are always a treat.

However, "The City & The City" left me pretty underwhelmed.

But some people like chocolate, some like vanilla. And some like tutti-frutti.


Nataliya Thanks, Mosca!
I agree, PSS is a good Miéville starter, and so is "Un Lun Dun" in my opinion. "The City & The City" is very different from the Bas Lag books, and I can see how it would not be to everyone's taste.


message 42: by Mosca (last edited Jun 07, 2012 10:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mosca I will put "Un Lun Dun" on my to read list. I sounds really good.

I'm reading "London's Overthrow" off the web at this point--pretty impressive so far. But all of my reading is really slow now. I must be the Venus Transect or something.


Nataliya I hope you will enjoy "Un Lun Dun". It seems that some people were rather unimpressed by it, but I really loved it. I think Miéville transitions very well from writing for adults to writing for children, but the change of style and vocabulary may be jarring for some.

I'm curious to see what you think about "London's Overthrow" when you finish it.


Srinivas i just started it,
i finding it interesting rather than weird,
dont know whats coming, i could say the mystery is going into deep.
i like Mieville's narration,is something different, that never experienced before


Nataliya I found it both interesting and weird. Usually more weirdness leads to it becoming more interesting for me. Miéville does have a very interesting narration in this book, a combination of pulpy noir style and Miéville's trademark bookishness.

The mystery in this book unfolds in so many layers that it's quite impossible to predict what is about to happen. Miéville is excellent at keeping the suspense going to the very end.


Chris Your review is the reason I am reading this now. It is a bit outside my comfort zone but I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.


Nataliya Chris wrote: "Your review is the reason I am reading this now. It is a bit outside my comfort zone but I hope I enjoy it as much as you did."

I hope so, too! My advice is - if it seems really weird at first, just go with it. It will all make sense at some point.


message 48: by Chris (last edited Aug 23, 2012 09:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chris Nataliya wrote: "Chris wrote: "Your review is the reason I am reading this now. It is a bit outside my comfort zone but I hope I enjoy it as much as you did."

I hope so, too! My advice is - if it seems really weir..."


Thanks for the heads up. I'm a third of the way through and pretty lost. I almost thought about starting over but I'll take your word for it.


message 49: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Nataliya wrote: "Wow. Okay, I'm definitely fangirling for China Miéville. "

If you're lucky, you might turn into a little China Girl:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_8IXx...

"And when I get excited
My little China Girl says
Oh baby just you shut your mouth
She says ... sh-sh-shhh"



Cecily Another wonderfully insightful review, Nataliya.

Hooray for those who love "The Scar", above, but I would sound a note of caution to those new to Mieville. It was the first of his I read, and I was very disappointed (I wanted and expected to enjoy Mieville). I disliked it enough that I would have been unlikely to try him again, and so would not have had the joys of this (TC&TC) and now "Embassytown". Fortunately, I was spared that fate by two factors: hearing his passionate love of my favourite author (Mervyn Peake) and the recommendations and group discussions of Mieville fans, including Nataliya.

I'm no Mieville expert (yet), but his books do seem very varied, so to those contemplating Mieville for the first time, I'd suggest thinking what genres you most enjoy, and then finding a Mieville that most closely fits.


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